Preschoolers Need Lots of Active Play

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

“It’s time for recess. Everybody get ready to go outside,” said the teacher. All of the preschoolers lined up to head out.

Once outside, the preschoolers were engaged in all sorts of activities. Some children were playing a game of tag. Others were climbing on the monkey bars, swinging from one rung to the next. Other preschoolers were chasing a soccer ball.

All of the children were engaged in some sort of active play. Active play involves moderate to vigorous physical activity that can occur indoors or outdoors. It also provides a range of benefits to preschoolers. Active play allows them to become more adept at various motor movements so they can run faster and be more agile. It builds preschoolers’ strength and endurance, reduces fat and provides emotional well-being.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends preschoolers get at least two hours of physical activity per day. Anyone who spends much time around preschoolers knows that two hours of physical activity in a day should be fairly easy for preschoolers as they tend to be rather active at that age. However, a recent study in the journal Pediatrics indicates that preschoolers are not getting enough active play in their day.

The authors of the study looked at several child care centers and found that most preschoolers were only getting about half the amount of active play time they needed. The lack of play was primarily due to preschoolers not being given enough opportunities to play. Most of their time was spent engaging in more sedentary activities such as story time or working on computers.

As summer is beginning, many preschoolers will be transitioning to daycare settings or spending more time at home. In either situation, they need to be given more opportunities for active play, particularly outdoors.

Active play can take many forms. Parents and teachers can structure some of the play time and lead preschoolers in exercising. This is when an adult models various exercises and stretches that preschoolers can copy. Preschoolers often enjoy this opportunity to exercise with their parents and teachers and find it fun. These types of exercises have the added benefit of providing bonding time between the children and their parents and teachers.

Another type of active play that is important is outdoor free play, particularly with other children. This is when preschoolers have the opportunity to create their own games or when spontaneous games of tag can break out. Outdoor free play is where the most active play tends to occur as the exercise is in the moment and spontaneous.

As the weather warms up and it becomes easier for children to play outside, parents and teachers can set up an environment that encourages active play. This includes having balls, jump ropes, hula hoops, Frisbees, and bicycles available. Try to have children go outside to play early and often. They will enjoy it and it will be great for their development.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on May 31, 2015

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